Monday, October 27, 2014

The Authentic Alternative

By Larry Beane

This post is intended as a follow-up to an earlier recent post about worship style and the latest battles within the LCMS over worship.

The church growth movement (the term may no longer be popular, but let us call a thing what it is) and its defenders accept the premise that style is divorced from substance, that doctrine is unrelated to practice.  This is a longstanding debate that has continued to foster disagreements in the LCMS since the emergence of the church growth movement (and this latest discussion is just yet another incarnation of that philosophy).

The Lutheran confessions themselves routinely link doctrine and practice.  The ancient connection between "lex credendi" and "lex orandi" is made explicit in the Book of Concord.  So, it does matter whether the pastor wears vestments or casual wear.  It is a confession of what is happening at the altar and an expression of a pastor's commitment to the church's confession of Catholic continuity.  If it is a case of need, want, poverty, or extenuating circumstances, that's obviously a different story.

But the church growth movement is a deliberate theological thrust away from the Book of Concord and a rejection of the Catholic tradition, just as was the state of general American Lutheranism when our forbears founded the LCMS.  This different thrust is what led the early LCMS into clearly articulating an explicit "quia" position on confessional subscription as well as a more unpopular stance against Lutheran unity, and likewise against incorporation of popular, but non-Lutheran, elements in worship.  This current debate actually gets to the very roots of the LCMS, and is in part why we've tended not to join in fellowship with other Lutherans, and have been parodied as grumpy sticks in the mud.

The current discussion is similar to when people link Lutheranism to the "Lutheran" church down the street with the "nice lady pastor."  One could argue that she is teaching the same doctrine, and is maybe even a better law/gospel preacher than many LCMS men.  She is truly officiating over valid sacraments (an argument that I don't accept) and saving people from hell (I don't believe this either), and so we should not be critical.  Whether or not to ordain women is merely a style issue, based on individual tastes and preferences, not a matter of doctrine (so the argument goes), and therefore we should be "nice" about it all and offer no criticism.  But to the contrary, this is a doctrinal issue, it does scandalize the faithful, and it destroys faith.  It's wrong, and we should say so.

Many also accept the premise that none of this church growthism is spiritually harmful.  It is.  People are scandalized by this.  I nearly left Lutheranism when I moved to a different part of the country as a layman and found all sorts of LCMS congregations and pastors that wanted to be entertainers.  My own parishioners are scandalized when they go on vacation and find this kind of thing.  It's not simply that these churches have blue doors and our door is red, this is a deviation from (among others) Article 24 (an article that one church growth pastor actually told me is no longer binding on Lutherans!).  There is also an obsession with numbers among church-growthers that is at odds with our confession of the Holy Spirit, predestination, election, and our condemnation of Arminianism.  This touches upon the article of justification itself, and is no mere window-dressing - all the protestations that "we're all just like you" notwithstanding.

We traditionalists/conservatives are routinely told to shut up and go with the flow.  Don't like gay marriage?  Then don't marry someone of your own sex.  Don't like abortion?  Don't have one.  Don't want a woman pastor?  Don't call one.  Above all, don't criticize others who are different, but coexist, just like the bumper sticker tells us to do.  Our churches all have LCMS on the sign out front, and even if they don't, they're secretly part of the LCMS - as evidenced by the church worker benefit plans, and possibly even financial support and subsidization from their districts.

I believe the church growth movement is a deviation away from our confessional heritage, that it seeks to drive a wedge between doctrine and practice, necessarily leads to splitting the Lutheran confessions into articles that are bonding vs. articles that are not binding, and harms people spiritually.

I have no doubt that church growth pastors and lay leaders are sincere and mean well.  But a lot of people are sincere and mean well.  That isn't the hallmark of what is orthodox, godly, or within the rubric of what is authentically Lutheran.  When we traditionalists are compared to the Taliban, mocked as being "Romanizers" or "chancel prancers," when our sacred liturgy is cast as a losing proposition that chases people away, when our Book of Concord is marginalized and actually laughed at (and yes, I have heard this repeatedly my entire ministry by church growth advocates), when we are told to shut up about the nice lady "pastor" or the congregation with the big screens and charismatic worship style - that's all okay.  When we write critiques - be they systematic arguments against such practices, or tongue in cheek parodies and satire, and we're told we're being divisive or engaging in polemics.  Luther was likewise criticized when he would not link arms with Zwingli over what many perceived to be a minor issue that did not actually divide us.

It did, and it does.

The good news is that in the long run, the fads always burn themselves out.  Traditional worship was here when we were all born, it will be here after we are all dead.  It was here when our Lord manifested Himself in the Tabernacle, and it will abide even until Christ returns.  First-world fad worship - be it cowboy church, biker church, dancing girls and rock music, secular narcissism, entertainment worship, and everything of that ilk - will ultimately end up like 8-track players and leisure suits.  The problem is that in the mean time, people are confused about Christianity, worship of the one true God, and the Lutheran confession of the faith by being told diametrically opposite things by groups all claiming to be teaching the same things.  The church growth movement cheapens the faith by recasting the profound as shallow, by shifting the focus from eternal transcendence to the life-cycle of a 140 character tweet, from the theological to the anthropological, from atonement to enjoyment.

"In our churches Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc."  If a pastor and congregation can't say that - and it is by intention and design (rather than an inherited anomaly to be changed pastorally) - then such pastors and congregations are simply not part of the "our churches" - unless the Book of Concord is no longer relevant, binding, normal (in the sense of being the norma normata of "our churches"), and that which defines what it means to be authentically Lutheran.

One of the tenets of the church-growth movement - to which its advocates pay lip-service - one that I actually agree with, is the need for authenticity.  People will inevitably sniff out the inauthentic.  Authenticity for us Lutherans is spelled out in our confessions.  Anything contrary to what Dr. Kenneth Korby called "our Catholic Book of Concord" invalidates claims to such a pastor or congregation being truly Lutheran, and is a big red flag that says "counterfeit."  I think people are tired of counterfeit religiosity and are increasingly wary of being manipulated.  I think the church growth movement is not just wrong, contrary to the Lutheran confession of the catholic faith, and spiritually toxic, but will ultimately prove ineffective of even its own goals, because it is, by definition, inauthentic.  It is rationally self-defeating and logically self-contradictory.  Its necessary postmodernist gymnastics are incongruous with the exclusive truth claims of the Christian faith itself.

Love, both for the sinners for whom Christ died as well as for the truth itself, demands that we expose the church growth movement for what it is, articulate this reality in different ways, and present people with an authentic alternative.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Symposium Week Preparations -- special rate at Hotel Fort Wayne

The annual Fort Wayne Symposia on the Lutheran Confessions are scheduled for 20-23 January 2015 at Concordia Theological Seminary. On Monday the 19th there is also a one-day retreat at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, where Rev. David Petersen, one of our associate editors, is the pastor. During this week the Gottesdienst crowd will again be at the Hotel Fort Wayne.  It’s at 305 East Washington Center Road. We have again obtained a special discount rate @ $89.00, including a voucher for free breakfasts at their superb buffet. Just minutes from the seminary.  Reservations, just click here, or call 260-484-0411 or toll free 855-322-3224; ask for the group rate for Gottesdienst.
Be sure to mention Gottesdienst, and reserve by January 7th.
The high point of Symposium week for us Gottesdiensters is the announcement of the recipient of our prestigious Sabre of Boldness award, in the student commons after the symposia banquet, on Thursday, January 22nd.
The Sabre ceremony is in its twentieth year.  The list of recipients is below.
Nominations are invited.  The award is given “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity on behalf of the Holy Church of Christ while engaged in the confession of His pure Gospel in the face of hostile forces and at the greatest personal risk.” Submit a signed nomination to Fr. Eckardt via e-mail (click here).  State the name, address, and telephone number of the nominee and the reasons why he or she is a fitting choice for Sabre Bearer.  The degree of the adversity, steadfast resistance to pressures to compromise, heedlessness of threats, and a clear confession of faith are considered.  The slate will close on Tuesday, January 20tht
Join the Gottesdienst crowd at Hotel Fort Wayne! X

Bearers of the Sabre of Boldness
1996  The Reverend Peter C. Bender
1997  The Reverend Jonathan G. Lange
1998  The Reverend Dr. Edwin S. Suelflow
1999  The Reverend Gary V. Gehlbach
2000  The Reverend Peter M. Berg
2001  The Reverend Dr. John C. Wohlrabe
2002  The Reverend Erich Fickel
2003  The Reverend Dr. Wallace Schulz
2004  The Reverend Charles M. Henrickson
2005  The Reverend Edward J. Balfour
2006  Bishop Walter Obare
2007  The Reverend Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn
2008  The Reverend Aaron Moldenhauer
2009  The Reverend Juhana Pohjola
2010  The Right Reverend Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn
2011  The Reverend Brian Saunders
2012  The Reverend Paul Rydecki
2013  Mrs. Katie Schuermann
2014  The Reverend Michael Brockman



Friday, October 24, 2014

Reformation, All Saints, All Souls

This year November 2nd falls on a Sunday. All Souls Day, also called the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed is a Feast of the First Class, so may appropriately take precedence.  
            It’s not uncommon for this to be confused with All Saints’ Day, November 1st, since Lutherans tend to think of all the faithful departed as saints; and indeed in an important respect, of course they are saints. They are translated to the Church Triumphant, with all the company of heaven.
            Traditionally, however (dating to the seventh century), All Saints was a day on which to commemorate especially those saints of yore whose lives were marked by a special confession of Christ unto death; that is, who were martyred. Many of those martyrs have days appointed specifically for them on the Western Calendar, such as the Apostles, or St. Laurence (August 10), or the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (August 29). There are in fact many post-biblical martyrs whose days are on the full Western Calendar. But there are many more, who never had dates attached to their martyrdom in any calendars, so All Saints was a day meant for commemorating all of them. That is why the more traditional color for All Saints is red, not white. In the Roman Catholic Church it is officially called the Solemnity of All Saints or Hallowmas or All Hallows (from which, of course, the evening before derives its name: Halloween).
            And that is also why the day for commemorating all of the faithful departed is not November 1st, but November 2nd. Incidentally, in recent years The Catholic Church has, like many other churches these days, also dropped the specific distinction of martyrs for All Saints, and remembers all the faithful who are in the Church Triumphant. The way they then distinguish between All Saints and All Souls is to count All Souls as those who are still in purgatory and have not yet achieved the beatific state of having been purified of all sins and arrived in heaven. We Lutherans, of course, have always firmly condemned such nonsense as not only contrary to Scripture, but contrary to the merit and worthiness of Christ: He alone is our Purifier. There is no such thing as purgatory.
            Providentially, ironically, and most fittingly, we have traditionally observed the Festival of the Reformation on the Eve of All Saints, October 31st. The Reformation was for us a recovery of the Gospel in its purity; so it is right then, that we note in an evangelical way the difference between All Saints and All Souls as something other than the folly of purgatory. We rejoice in the confession of martyrs unto death on All Saints, and in all the faithful departed, who are in the Church Triumphant, on All Souls. The color for that day is historically black, and a requiem mass is said (though again, requiems ought never be said among us in according to the false view that our prayers help souls fly from some imaginary purgatory). Since as most parishes do not have black paraments, white is used to emphasize the Church Triumphant, from which, in glory, the faithful departed all await the resurrection of the body at the Last Day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A fresh new approach to church

New pastor brings new style to church

Lead Pastor Burnell Petersen leads fresh new worship style at local church
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COLUMBUS — A church is about to embark on a new journey as it welcomes new Lead Pastor Burnell H.R. Petersen.
The 35-year-old father of five said it was the Holy Spirit that called him to the Missouri-Synod Lutheran congregation accompanied by his wife, Concordia, to Columbus. “As radical as it sounds," the black-shirted pastor - bereft of hipster glasses, wispy beard, and shaved head - explained, ”I didn't scope out this place through marketing, surveys, or focus groups, but rather God called me here to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments without regard to human manipulation."  
“The mission of Jesus Christ is what got me here: to reach unbelievers (not the unchurched, dechurched, underchurched, overchurched, or entertainment-deprived); but rather people who need Law and Gospel, but are being deprived of it in their tired old feckless baby-boomer churches, or maybe they’ve been hurt or are struggling in some way with being manipulated like a focus group,” Petersen said.
He went on to explain what sets his congregation apart from other churches in the community.
“We actually believe in this stuff.  We aren't giving people hipster gobbledygook and hackneyed warmed over phony religiosity, but the actual Gospel ” said the 2005 graduate of a certain Lutheran Seminary.  I like my motorcycle just fine, but I won't be riding it into the chancel."
He believes shallow postmodernism and silly innovations are often placed above the real reason someone attends church.
“If you asked someone off the street their idea of a church, they would think praise bands, a guy in jeans and an untucked shirt cracking jokes, just some of those older worn-out postmodern ideas of what church is, cookie cutter crap that just makes young people want to hurl," Petersen said. "Our congregation is not really any of those things. We don’t have praise bands, no middle aged pastor desperately trying to be relevant but just looking like a clown.  We understand or try to project in our culture that church is more than just trying to bait and switch people and downplaying Jesus, the cross, redemption, and the Gospel.  We don't throw our blessed Lord under the bus."
“It’s a challenge to minister as an actual believer instead of a poser, but if you simply carry out the Lord's instructions from Scripture, it's not really hard to understand that this isn't posing for selfies."
Petersen is excited about becoming part of the mission that the Holy Catholic Church has set out to accomplish since its opening in 30 AD.
“The neat thing about this body of Christ is we’re all broken, we’re all sinful and we all struggle. That grace and mercy that’s poured on us in Holy Baptism, we’re overjoyed by it.  And in spite of the crosses we bear as disciples, we can’t help but want to share it, by inviting people to the Divine Service,” he said.
There is no target age or demographic, Petersen said with the Church's culture-transcending hymnody and multisensory experience of the Western Mass in its fullness, along with the Law and Gospel he uses within his sermons, the congregation has no intended age, race, or status of wealth.
“It’s liturgical and dignified so that’s attractive to young families. It’s an authentic atmosphere on Sundays so parents feel comfortable bringing their kids here,” he said.
His congregation tends to be a little different than other churches as actually worshiping God through the miracle of the physical presence of Jesus in Word and sacrament is a normal scene - as opposed to projection screens, bad guitar music, skits, lattes, cup-holders, couches, dancing girls, and mind-numbing praise choruses,
Petersen is confident that by virtue of the Lord's incarnation and mission to seek and save the lost, Jesus will continue to interact physically and miraculously as the Holy Spirit grows the church according to the will of the Father, a reality he gladly invites.  He has no idea what the "numbers" will look like.
“It’s a really good problem to have,” he said.
Petersen describes himself as a "poor miserable sinner" who has been "called into the preaching office and set apart through Holy Ordination" with a preaching style that shuns gimmicks, current events, and modern media examples such as video clips and slideshows - focusing rather on Christ and His work on the cross for the salvation of sinners.  It's a radical idea, and one certain to raise eyebrows, but Petersen is convinced that this new way is superior to the old, traditional shuck-and-jive contemporary nonsense that turns people off with its shallowness.
“We have not abolished the Mass," said Petersen, in a shocking quotation of the Book of Concord, "Moreover, in our churches 'Mass is celebrated every Sunday and on other festivals when the sacrament is offered to those who wish for it after they have been examined and absolved. We keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of the lessons, prayers, vestments, etc.'" 

It's an idea so radical and fresh that it's a wonder this has not been tried before.

For more information about what authentic worship does not look like, visit any number of LCMS congregations.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola

  by Burnell F Eckardt Jr
  in collaboration with the editorial staff

          There’s been plenty of well-founded worry about the Ebola virus these days. As I write this, we’re already tracking the possibilities of its spread through two Dallas nurses who contracted the disease from the Liberian man who came here and has died. One of those nurses took a flight to and from Cleveland, and that plane has been to Florida. Some schools have closed as precautions. Who knows where this can go? By the time you read this it may have been stanched, or it may have become epidemic, official reassurances to the contrary notwithstanding.
            One cannot help but think of the plagues of the Middle Ages to find points of comparison, most especially the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century in which over a third of all Europeans died. But we can also make a more recent comparison. Having just recently updated the chronicles of St. Paul’s in Kewanee, I happen to be somewhat versed in the ease with which a plague can suddenly sweep across even a nation that has the advantage of knowing more than medieval folk did about how disease is spread.
            In 1918, the Spanish Flu pandemic reached the shores of America, probably through the U.S. Government War Exhibition in Chicago, which opened in September of that year and brought a quarter of a million visitors. Chicago was the nation’s largest rail hub at the time.   As was the case across Illinois, Kewanee’s first announced victims were servicemen who were still away from home, but soon the ravages of the disease were felt by families here and across the nation.  By the end of October, over 40,000 new cases were reported in Chicago in one week alone. In the same month Kewanee noted its first local death of an influenza victim.
            Articles appearing in the Kewanee Star Courier appear to have been written with the aim of quelling people’s fears.  Weekly stories would announce the reported decline of new cases, or of good news on the flu front.  An often-reprinted article entitled “Spanish Influenza—What It Is and How It Should Be Treated,” confidently averred that it is “nothing new . . . simply the old ‘grippe’” of 1889-90, and insisted that there was “no occasion for panic.”  When the war ended in November, the newspaper declared that the city received the news with “unbridled joy.”   At year’s end a half-page artist’s sketch chronicled the year’s mostly significant events, and most of it was devoted to excitement about the war’s drawing to a close, while allowing only a small corner to note that “Uncle Sam got the flu.”
            But obituaries didn’t lie, and since the middle of October there had been a steady stream of reports of new local victims who had died of “the flu and pneumonia.” And since it was customary in those days to print obituaries on the front page of the paper, their daily appearance seemed almost to mock the newspaper’s valiant if pitiful attempts to maintain a bright outlook.
            One of the particularly odious facets of a plague—and this pandemic certainly qualified as a plague—is that spiritual care became difficult to obtain in a time when it was most sorely needed.  The city of Kewanee closed all its public places, and all the local churches had agreed to cooperate.  By the year’s end they had all ceased to conduct services, with the sole exception of the funerals, which of necessity were held away from the church, and at which attendance was kept to an absolute minimum. St. Paul’s closed its doors with an announcement that arrangements could be made with the pastor for private catechetical instruction.   The church stayed closed for thirteen weeks.
Usually the victims of influenza would die within a single week of their contraction of the disease.  Delirium was not uncommon.  People everywhere were getting sick.  The city of Chicago ran out of hearses.  Morgues were stacked to the ceiling with bodies.
The pandemic didn’t actually abate until the late spring and summer of 1919.  Researchers estimate that between 30 and 50 million people died worldwide, with an estimated 675,000 Americans being among the dead.
St. Paul’s was able to open its doors sometime early in 1919, though people were still dying.  In one week alone during that period there were five funerals.  The official church record puts the number of deaths from influenza at 11.  It took until sometime in the year 1920 for the horrendous chapter of the influenza plague to come, thankfully, to an end, and, as was the case in all of mankind’s previous plagues, an awareness began to settle in that it was not yet the end of the world.
So today we are facing the threat of Ebola. We have received word that some of our Liberian brothers have questions about our communion practice and we realize these questions might soon afflict us as well. What of the common cup? What of the reliquae (leftover elements)? Should this disease take on the marks of an actual pandemic among us, we may once again be in need of extraordinary measures, and history can guide us. Under extraordinary circumstances, it might be proper for churches to take extraordinary measures, to quell fears where possible. There will surely be a temptation to attempt a sterile distribution of the Lord's Supper. The pastor should wash his hands thoroughly before the Service, but extra care might be taken and public awareness of this precaution could be raised. Hand-shaking could be forbidden. And certainly, the idea that glass individual cups could be used, perhaps with vodka dampened purificators or other precautions, will be brought up as more sanitary than the chalice.
The editors have considered all these things, and it seems to us all that such precautions are really no guarantee of complete sterility and that our fathers felt that the best course was not to change the mode of distribution but to abstain from public communion services; and we think that if we do face an actual pandemic of plague proportions, this would still be the best and safest course. Pastoral care would have to be handled mostly in a private way and may even require at times, if the communicant is quarantined or some such thing, the use of rubber gloves and a face mask by the celebrant. Unless the pandemic shuts down the power grid and the internet, we will enjoy ways of preaching to and catechizing our people that our fathers did not have. If things do get out of hand, it might become necessary, once again, to close our churches altogether for awhile and rely solely on individualized pastoral care and electronic media.

We do have plenty of reason, however, even from a medical point of view, to be hopeful that no such thing will befall us in these days. It is certainly true that the Lord will provide and that He might well deliver us to Himself through Ebola or some other horrific disease. We trust, without flinching, that if the Lord deliver us to that fate through the Chalice or the Services of the Church that it is His good and gracious will to do so and that the forgiveness of sins that always comes to the faithful through the Lord's Supper will be what we truly need. Indeed, such an end, as all those that God gives, will be a blessing. But we should not shirk our duty to the 5th commandment in all of this or engage in extra-Biblical fantasy that the Lord never delivers crosses through the means of grace. The Lord never hurts or harms His children in any place or time and certainly He never harms them in the Lord's Supper, but the Lord does call His people home and allow them to suffer trials on this side of glory. We do not refuse medical care because the Lord provides and we should not ignore the dangers of plague if it is visited upon us. Again: extraordinary and temporary measures may be necessary. Meanwhile, like many before who have not only been threatened by plagues, but have actually suffered them, we can, and should, pray. For the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.